the following short story was inspired by stephen King, from his book on writing - a memoir of the craft. It’s a bit dark.
He stood on the porch and watched her go. She wore a white dress that swayed left and right in the wind. Her hair was cut. Shoulder length and blonde like a South Dakota coyote in winter. Her home state. The straps on the dress draped over her shoulders and Eric looked at the straps and the muscles they saddled. The blades of her thin, square back pulsed when she walked, as if each protrusion waved goodbye in bony succession. The dog ran out of the front door and stopped next to Eric’s knee. Pepper was confused. Mother wasn’t stopping. He’d been in the pantry since the fighting started. He had lowered his ears and tucked into safety; backed his end against a six-pack of 7-up and lay his black salted cape on top of a Wal-Mart sack that fell onto the floor when they unpacked groceries. The two of them together. Eric and Jennifer. Picked up a few odds and ends on a Sunday two weeks prior. The last time they held hands in public. The last time they looked at each other like the world was still turning. Like the universe was still something to wonder about.
Jennifer hurried to the edge of the street and opened the door of the Mustang. The silver Mustang wedding gift from Eric. He spent half his life saving for that car. Saving for something he didn’t know he was going to buy. She loved it. It would be six years old this June. Their marriage would share the same age. Jennifer opened the door and for a moment, when her chin tilted in the direction of her husband, he thought she might forgive him. His stomach turned and then it kept turning when her chin left no more indication of glance and her face stayed down and she was in the car and the door was closed. Pepper sat down and ran his tongue around his lips, as if maybe the scent of her was still close. But the only smell was the smoke. The tires screeched against hardened tar. She let it burn for a bit. Then she was flying. The steering wheel must have given her a rod to hold on to - a rod of lighting with immeasurable power to laymen and more force than humanly necessary, a rod of lighting with four rubber wheels and an odometer and a cd player and a 4.6 Liter V8 - a lighting rod with an airbag and a cinnamon air freshener.
That was the first thing Eric saw when he ran to the car.
The cerise, swinging air freshener was redder than it had ever been in its life. Eric wasn’t the type to study the details of air fresheners but when he saw it he knew it was an unnatural red. He knew it was an unholy red, a red that would bleed into his brain and marinate like merlot soaking a ribeye with garlic and cloves and Italian dressing. The cinnamon air freshener swung in a way that was shorter than the dress. Curtailed. Restricted. It swung like it was trying to walk down a long hallway but having trouble bending at the knees. Jennifer wasn’t crying or swinging or moving. She was slumped against the steering wheel like a tall sack of flour with a leaky middle - a bag of two parts joined effervescently in the torso by the prayers of fiber. Her dress was made pure and white but now it was spotted and unholy. It was piebald, like a rare whitetail deer. Dark, vitreous hues mixed and the shades looked ungodly and foreign, as if the amalgamation of fresh air had tainted and stained some concoction of celestial liquid. Pepper was barking now. Barking and almost growling. Eric was screaming. He wasn’t moving his legs or his arms anymore but he was screaming. Like a fire hydrant yelling for the water to come but nothing does.
Eric and Jennifer’s neighbor, Clay Myers, was mowing his lawn across the street. He was sixty-seven years old, the last 42 spent as a firearms instructor. He had been around small explosions for over four decades and the ringing in his ears kept him up at night. Hearing aids didn’t help. He wore a set of earplugs underneath ear muffs when he mowed. He felt like he was saving a sliver of hearing he imagined he still had.
Perhaps it was a punishment for past arrogance.
The earplugs were orange and he always pinched the ends of the soft foam before inserting them into each ear. After he let go, the foam rose like dough in the oven and formed to the contours of his canals and blocked most sound. Then the ear muffs were placed. They covered the ears entirely and the lobes were not visible nor any other part of ear flesh and he usually gave them an extra tap to seal the rubber rings against his gray, closely shaven scalp.
Even with the earplugs and the ear muffs, Clay heard the crash.
More than that, he felt it in his chest like a deep cold returning. He let go of the green mower and his hands stayed open as he searched for the sound. His neck fell into his clavicles, as if he were preparing for falling bullets. As he turned around, he saw it. The silver Mustang crunched against the black oak in his front yard. The front end looked the opposite of a snake shedding its skin. The silver hood looked like a serpent trying most unnaturally to tuck itself back into the sheath of its youth - an overgrown serpent trying to push itself into its birth sac. The silver body spilled out of the crunched, tube-like frame and pieces were scattered and smoking. The windshield was a spider web on white fire.
He took a few steps. Then he took a few steps more. He peeked around the hood which looked like no hood at all. Then he stopped. Clay closed his hands when he saw the leg. It was a beautiful, white leg with a calf Eric held between his feet most nights, a calf pristine and doll-like from Clay’s angle, dangling underneath the door. It was the archetype of women’s calves. The backside was the side that held the undulation of muscle that men dreamed of when they didn’t know they had dreamed, a dream that left them inspired with some deep resonance, though they had no idea why. It would have continued to give men dreams had it not been for the red line.
A curving, evil line of blood, pure as oil and red like melted wax used to seal Catholic envelopes of old, ran up the calf and up the thigh and under the dress, ran to the place most men ran to, in birth and in darkness. This was the side that Eric could see. He saw the red and the place it went and he saw the dress patterned unnervingly and then he saw the hair. The blonde, blooming hair, recently cut, now strewn forward and splayed over the steering wheel, black and leather. There was something in the hair. Something oblong and, at times, sparkling. It was glass. It was a large, pizza slice piece of glass and it wasn’t suspended in the locks themselves.
It was inserted.
It was inserted like the shovel of a farmer who stabs the earth at the end of a long day and knows the handle and spade will be there come morning. Eric stopped his open mouth horror when he saw it. The triangle, mostly white and frothy, a base of thick red, took him to another place. Dianne.
Dianne wore a diamond necklace shaped like a pyramid, wore the sparkling, diamond necklace the last time he saw her because he gave it her. It was smaller than the glass inserted into Jennifer now, but it was eerily similar in appearance and instinct. It was so similar that Eric thought, no, he urged himself to take it. The impulses of his impulses told him to grab the piece of glass and yank it out before Jennifer saw it because it must be Dianne’s. It was so similar, it must be hers. He must take it before his wife sees it. Then Eric realized his wife was dead. His wife had pressed on the gas pedal with all the hatred of a wounded badger and she had looked at Eric finally as the Mustang sped off but what she should have been looking at was the road and the curb and the tree.
Never saw it.
Only saw Eric and then a jolt and then God. The Mustang had taken Jennifer’s rage and transported it to the rods and the pistons and the engine had transported rage again into the tires (four 17-inch Goodyear’s) and the tires had taken the scorned rage and beat its energy and hatred into the pavement of Baker City, Oregon, and the street had catapulted anger and fury into death by oak.
The street had seen many things before. The street had seen tires and tennis shoes and basketballs and hockey goals. The pavement had seen joggers and retirees and newlyweds and five-year old’s. The street had even seen blood. Bobbie Johnson’s cracked cranium when he fell from his skateboard. The Henderson’s ten-year-old Golden Retriever, Max, struck by Peter Cathaway on his way home from a late bar run. Yes, the street had tasted blood before. But not like this. Not blood this deep and copious. Not blood this red and full of hell. Not blood that pooled against the curb, eking over the front lawn of Clay Myers, running down the archetypal calf, leaking from the place of life, connected to the head of a triangle in the head of a woman.
But all the blood pooled against the curb could not have come from the triangle. It was anatomically impossible for a human head to hold that amount. No, the pool against the curb on the street that had never witnessed such massacre had to have been supplemented. It had to have been contributed to by something or someplace else.
And it was.
As Eric’s eyes left the pyramid glass and followed the straps of the dress he watched walk away, he noticed the obvious omission of middle, the natural transition of torso not there. He remembered now as he saw it. He remembered running to her and seeing her awkward profile from a distance but then he was closer and could only see blonde and tragedy. Now, as he allowed himself to focus outward and take in the environment of his own doing, he could see the impalement. He could see the metal lance, jousted into his wife from somewhere underneath the hood to now somewhere underneath her. He could see the silver and black and now red metal, jutted into his love like a hot, massive butter knife into fresh yogurt.
Eric turned away and vomited the contents that had been begging to exit since his mouth and throat ran out of scream power. He opened full bore and he vomited his history and his guilt and his love and his passions and his manhood and his guts. He vomited, praying for forgiveness and hoping for death, but receiving neither.
Clay Myers called 911 and everyone arrived before Eric could make himself grab the glass pyramid and now they were brushing him away, tending quickly to the victim. Their hands ran wildly over her body and they tested her waters with instruments and precise placement and the spark of commotion gave Eric hope and then they were slower. They eased their hurried pace and a dark casting fell onto the lawn and the street and the car. It was the cloud of the acceptance of death and the tone was felt by all life still standing. This acceptance of death and the realization of a point in time unremittable brought a fury of emotion into Eric’s body previously undiscovered.
It was madness.
They loaded her in the back and Eric watched her drift away and the madness boiled over. He ripped at the ambulance door and he bawled like a tortured goat in a leg trap and he slammed his forehead against the small window and the concussion dazed him but did not dismay him and he slammed his head a second time and then he was given a shot of 10,000 volts of electricity from the second police officer at the scene - an older, experienced cop who had seen something like this before but not exactly this way yet knew it was time to pull his Taser and end the chaos.
Eric lay flat and something tickled his neck. Something wet and bending and multiple. He returned to earth. His mind ran and he was excited to accept the images as a terrible dream but then there was something massive and silver next to him. It was the Mustang and he could see red inside. His body filled with agony and he wept against the grass. Fresh, short grass cut by Clay Meyers on a Sunday in summer.
Baker City, Oregon.
The medics moved around him and asked him questions, but they were outside of him and their voices were distant. More police officers gathered and stood around him and some of them wore blue plastic gloves and a heavy man with a thin mustache took notes on a short pad. He asked Eric questions but again the man’s voice was removed and not on the same plane. Eric leaned up and spoke words he couldn’t comprehend. He said things that made the men in white and black stop talking. Hours passed. Maybe days, he couldn’t tell. People stood on their lawns. People in shorts and hats and dresses and suits. Kids watched him. Some of them covered their mouths with their hands and some of them were crying. More time passed, and Eric couldn’t remember why this wasn’t a dream and why he wasn’t waking up. He hoped it was something fictional. A movie perhaps. Perhaps he was in a movie and everyone in his life had been acting. Maybe his parents would be there soon and they would tell him he was born in a movie and then everyone would laugh and Jennifer would come back and he would be angry at first but then he would forgive the world for making his life into a movie and he would tell Jennifer she had been a good actress. Yes, the pounding madness had turned to delusion and he was lost now, aware of insanity but within it and willing to take the ride.
The strobing, pulsing blue and red and white lights revolving through the windows and around the ceiling, like a never-ending game of rainbow chase, finally went away. He was glad. Now he could sit in complete darkness and have a talk with his other side. The side that caused the white dress to sway from him and into the Mustang. The side that bought the necklace. The side that placed the necklace around the tinted neck and kissed it. The side that pulled the panties off the tinted legs and threw them behind his back in the room he rented downtown on a Tuesday. The room that included the bed and the shower and the TV and the bodies, twirling and naked and moaning.
He knew Jennifer would find out. He knew she would see the bank statement or the receipt or the box in the trash. He did nothing to hide the evidence of a gift for another woman. A woman he was in love with. That’s why he did it, he told himself. He failed to hide the evidence because he was a coward. He was too afraid to say the words so the next best thing was to let the words write themselves on jewelry store receipts or bank accounts or trash cans. And if it wouldn’t have been those things it would have been something else. A phone call or a message or a letter or a sighting. He was knowingly sloppy in his dark love for the darker woman. The tinted, black haired beauty with brown eyes and insatiable lips. Lips Eric dreamed about next to Jennifer. Lips that made his manhood rise like a morning sun, sure and steady and lasting.
There was a knock on the door. Eric looked up and the knock came again, a hurried and insistent banging. His parents, he thought. He walked slowly and regrettably to the door. He opened it and it was her. Dianne was crying and she walked in before he asked her to and she stood in the living room and cried further.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” she said.
“What are you doing here?” Eric asked.
“One of my co-workers told me. Her sister lives down the street. She told me a woman was killed in a car wreck and when she said silver Mustang I knew. I knew who it was and I came.”
“Why would you do that?” he asked. “Why would you come?”
Dianne stopped crying for a moment. She was confused and suddenly she had the feeling that she’d made a mistake.
“Where’s your necklace?” he asked.
She stopped crying completely now and studied him. She replayed the words.
“What?” she asked, thinking of nothing better.
“The necklace. Where is it?”
She made no connection to the validity of this question and she was worried, but she answered anyway.
“It’s here,” she said. “It’s right here.”
Dianne reached under her shirt and moved her hand in a way that coerced the necklace from its hiding underneath the cotton.
“There it is,” Eric said and smiled. “There’s the beauty.”
He walked toward her now and he seemed happy and Dianne knew no reason for such emotion at such a time and she was afraid and started to shake. Eric reached her and put his hand out and when he did Dianne retracted.
“Hey there,” Eric soothed. “It’s ok. Everything’s going to be ok now. She’s gone. The bitch is gone now. Isn’t that what we wanted?”
He giggled a little when he said this, and Dianne was now trembling and the giggle was a sound she’d never heard before but had read about in novels.
Eric put both hands on Dianne’s shoulders. He was slow and sincere and for a moment, Dianne thought Eric was genuine.
“Let’s take a look here,” he said, moving around her and behind her.
His hands stayed on her shoulders and they applied enough downward pressure to give Dianne hesitation in movement. She was frozen now. A cold, trembling stone.
“Let’s take a look here,” Eric said as he repositioned the necklace and brushed her black hair out of the way.
He pulled on both sides of the chain and his hands felt giant and rough against Dianne’s brittle neck and he adjusted the chain over and over and over.
“There we go,” Eric said. “Isn’t that better?”
His hands were on her shoulders again.
“It’s going to be ok, you know that right, baby?” he asked. “Everything’s going to be the way it should be.”
He whispered into her ear and his breath was strange and his tone was low. Dianne started to cry. Slight at first, then harder and bouncing.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”
She started to turn to face Eric but his hands kept her facing away and then she moved her arms to turn and face him and he stopped those too and the arm dance started slow and almost playful but the more Dianne moved the more she realized it was restriction she was feeling now. Force.
“It’s ok,” he said. “It’s ok.”
Eric suddenly held her in place with his left arm wrapped completely around her chest. Dianne grabbed his forearm with both hands, like she was about to attempt a reverse pull up. She was crying heavily now and Eric’s face was against her neck. The curved crevice he’d kissed so many times.
“We need to make sure it fits,” he said. “We need to make sure this necklace fits.”
He started to pull suddenly on the necklace and Dianne started to yell out and she hated herself for coming here and she asked herself why she hadn’t run out of the door or something else besides stand still and let Eric do this. Then his hand was over her mouth before any other thought could transform and then it was only fear. Crippling lightning fear that rides instead of strikes. The kind of lightning fear that rides the tree until it's burned into nothingness.
“There, there now. It’s going to be ok,” Eric said.
He was strangling her now, his left arm wrapped like an anaconda around her thin dark neck. Dianne tried to fight but he was strong. His right hand was at the base and it was precisely pulling. It was the necklace and as Eric strained against Dianne’s trachea with one arm, the other pulled back with the effort of a man trying to win an ancient contest and the necklace cut small gashes into the sides of her soft neck and then the necklace gave in and broke and the pyramid diamond flew across the room and toward the door and Eric watched it fly because it was shining and all-encompassing. The pyramid shape demanded all attention gathered from the day’s events and the sparkling rock took all retina with it. He watched it spin and dance through the air until it landed on the carpet. It landed next to something brown and leathery.
It landed next to a boot.
Eric peered at the brown next to the diamond and it was strange and his eyes tried to focus and when they did he saw that it was a boot with laces. He’d seen the boot before but he couldn’t remember when or how but he knew it wasn’t his. He followed the boot upward and there were jeans attached and the jeans ran vertical, like a pair of frozen waterfalls. Stalwart. Leading. Then a body in a sweaty t-shirt and there were green streaks on the shirt but before Eric could ascertain the quality of saturation, something else took all light and reflection. It was small at first, then enormous and dark. It was a perfect circle and it glared directly at him and there was a hand underneath it, squeezing and crimped. By the time Eric realized it was a human hand holding a gun, the finger had already tightened, and the .45 caliber hollow point entered Eric’s left eye socket and exited out the backside of his brown hair, close enough to Dianne’s own head to cause her black hair to flail, but far enough away for a trained marksman.
Clay Myer always wore his .45 Glock on his hip, tucked neatly and firmly into its habituated holster. Even when he mowed his lawn on Sundays, Clay wore his weapon. When Eric’s limp body fell to the floor, Dianne screamed. It was a less and pitchy scream. The air was slow returning to her lungs and throat but she choked and tried to scream anyway. Clay couldn’t hear her. Clay wore ear muffs over his earplugs.
Perhaps it was a punishment for past arrogance.